Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Adam Lambert

I think I'm the only American Idol watcher blogging here, so I hesitate to post about it. But I'm obsessed. I can't get enough of Adam Lambert, one of the contestants on Idol this season. There are a few things that interest me about him. Most importantly, he can seriously sing and by that I mean he's both trained and gifted. Beautiful tone to his voice, spectacular control, a sense of rhythm, and a range that is a wonder to behold. He's a tenor contraltino, which means he's got notes on the top of his range that he can sing in his chest voice (without resorting to falsetto) that typical tenors can't get to and it also means that he can operate near the top of his range with facility. And when he goes into falsetto, he can do it full-voiced which sounds like screeching to some people, but those of us who grew up with singers like Geddy Lee, Steve Perry, Robert Plant, and Axl Rose will find that tone to be a pleasant reminder of the days when rockers were supposed to sound scary enough that your parents didn't want to listen to them.

Stylistically, he can sing anything. He can sing quietly and beautifully: Irish-tenor style singing an aria from Brigadoon and covering a Five for Fighting ballad. And then he can get glammed up and let it rip, like these numbers from The Zodiac Show: Singer #3 singing LedZep's Black Dog and Crawl Thru Fire.

He's got intangibles too. He's competitive; he likes challenge; he's old enough (now 27) to have a well-developed sense of self; he's been working at music long enough to know what he wants to do and to have soaked up lots of influences; his dad was a DJ back when DJs were trying NOT to scratch the vinyl, so he spent a lot of time as a tyke soaking up music from the 70s; he's creative; he's smart; he's into the style-aspect of being a star; he's tall and strong (and I admit that's weirdly appealing to me because it seems unusual in singers and makes for more powerful stage-prowling); he notices and appreciates bravery in artists; he's got perfect pitch or a supremely well-trained ear.

He gave a signature Idol performance two weeks ago, singing Ring of Fire arranged with Middle-Eastern influences. Lots of people hated it, but I loved it. It was a little odd the first time you heard it because one's brain was simultaneously playing Cash's version and the two didn't go so well together. But if you watch it back a time or two (or a 100), you can focus on what Adam is doing and I found it stunningly fabulous. (It's not completely original; Dilana Robichaux sang ROF in this vein on Rockstar INXS a few years ago.) Frankly, it suits the lyrics a lot better than Cash's mariachi band.

The other story of note about him is that he's gay or bi. Idol has had a history of being squeamish about dealing with the sexual preference of their gay stars. Clay Aiken didn't come out for several years after his Idol days. Adam is out, though, more or less. There are pictures of him kissing a guy on the internet, there's video of him performing in a cabaret where he mentions that kissing a female Wicked costar was not his preference, and he's been interviewed about it in recent weeks and answered something like, "I am who I am; I have nothing to hide" without exactly declaring who he is. The tricky thing for Adam is that he employs this smoldering sensuality quality and it's making girls melt for him. If he's not bi and he doesn't really come out, then he's got a little bit of a perpetrating-a-fraud problem. Maybe nothing much will come of it, but I'm curious to see how he and Idol handle it.

I'm also interested to watch him make song choices on Idol. He'll have to give performances that appeal to the masses (if he wants to win) while staying true to his own musical and artistic sensibilities. His very tame Tracks of My Tears was a big hit last week, but he won't be satisfied doing something like that all the time. I'm genuinely looking forward to hearing what he's up to tonight.

Update 3/31/09: He sang Play That Funky Music White Boy. I think maybe he's trying to get thrown off so he won't be stuck with the Idol recording contract.


love johnson said...

I can proudly say I've never watched AI, so I don't really know anything about past or present "competitors". However, I did see a YouTube (though it must not be there anymore) clip of his Ring of Fire performance.

It was being talked about on the ( strangely) all-sports station here in DFW and the discussion piqued my interest enough to watch it. I thought it was great. I love Middle Eastern influenced stuff and never thought that ROF could be performed in that manner.

What I also loved about the clip I saw was how stunned the judges were. From what I gathered, it was supposedly a C&W themed show and they were for the most part taken aback because while the song was a C&W song (I guess), his arrangement of it certainly wasn't. One of them made the comment that that was what ROF would sound like if Nine Inch Nails (whom I an a huge fan of) were performing it. Not sure if that was totally a correct observation, but I got the point.

I liked it that this guy bended the supposed rules because everyone was expecting a C&W song performed in a C&W style. I actually think they should do more of what he did - take a song and do it in a totally different style. That might (though probably not) make me actually watch a portion of AI.

Stephanie said...

There's both an audio recording and a video recording available for purchase on iTunes. (I bought both.) His audio recording is a little more produced, a little softer (but still Middle-Eastern-y and cool) than what he did on the show (i.e. the video recording).

I think Randy Jackson's comment about the NIneInchNails was a reference to Cash's cover of the NineInchNails song "Hurt". He meant, I think, that Lambert's rendition was appropriate after what Cash had done with Hurt (so fabulously).

Idol has had quite a few memorable performances where singers made a song their own. Most recently, David Cook (who I think won last season, but who didn't do much for me) did Billy Jean and Hello in styles very different from the originals. And C&W night is always a night that some of the singers show us adaptations since so few of them want to be country.

Scooter said...

Yeah but....

Nobody does ROF like The Bobs.

love johnson said...

The Bobs rule!!

Scooter said...

Wild Cherry: I flipped back and forth for Adam and did catch Play That Funky Music, White Boy. From Steph's update I must assume it wasn't his best choice though he certainly put in the effort and the judges didn't seem to mind.

Couple of things: the girl with the tats on her arm is terrible. The girl with the magenta hair is terrible.

I recall that that female singer from Miami had some kind of terrible accident...did Paula Abdul?

Stephanie said...

Part of the fun of watching Idol is seeing exactly what sort of substance-altered state Paula will be in. Last night had an opiate quality, I think. She's more entertaining on whiskey nights.

Have re-watched Adam and liked it better the second time. That's a man who's comfortable in his skin and in his artistry. The whole night sucked. Lots of bad song choices. And the girl in the red hair is Allison. She's 16 so is going to make some mistakes. Last week though, her Papa WAs a Rolling Stone was really good in performance and outstanding in her audio recording. She's got a career ahead of her, in spite of last night's misstep. The girl with the tattoo sleeve is abysmal. The only reason she's in the competition is because she was a judge's wildcard pick. Now Vote For the Worst has taken up her cause, and that's why she's still there. Her ears are actually worse than her voice.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Tats can't sing but she can dance...